The grim centennial of a conflict that was to destroy the 20th century and from which we have never really recovered

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A favorite uncle of mine returned to Canada at the end of World War Two having served as an infantryman in both the Italian and German fronts. To everyone’s gratitude he returned unscathed. Ha, what a joke that is. Nobody who did what he did returns unscathed.

poster 1An intellectually bright guy he went into civilian life and registered at the University of BC with the objective of becoming an attorney. Within weeks he dropped out. He dropped out because his fellow students, no younger in many cases than he was, “were just boys,” in his esteem. They were mere boys because they hadn’t seen what he had. War warps a fellow (and girl, if she serves) and everybody who has ‘been there’ knows that.

During that same ‘demob’ period in his life he got into a rather heated discussion with his mother, who was a terribly patriotic old-school Englishwoman, when he told her that if the situation arose again he would have registered as a conscientious objector and would have found it quite acceptable to have been thrown in prison rather than don khakis to go and fight “England’s War”.

poster 2Grannie was outraged and virtually condemned her son as a near traitor for his utterance about England’s War. He never changed that opinion and applied it to both so-called “World Wars”. They were not Canada’s wars. I do not and cannot disagree with him.

This is the centenary of the start of the Great War. It began so stupidly when some dumbfuck little terrorist bumped off an equally dumbfuck Austrian heir to the vilely corrupt Austro-Hungarian Empire and in the ensuing melee for the next four years an entire generation from many countries were wiped out and the world is still reaping that whirlwind.

poster 3The only good thing to come out of that war was, in my esteem, the destruction of a goodly number of hideous European monarchies – the monarchies that pushed for the conflict to begin in the first place. The truly bad thing to come out of it was that a lot of those monarchies were replaced by regimes that made their ‘royal’ excesses pale in comparison when you witness the rise of the Bolshevik, Nazi, and Fascist regimes to fill the vacuum that was left when the royal bums vacated.

Yet vast numbers of Canadians rallied to the call to arms in 1914, including a goodly number of great uncles of mine as well as my maternal grandfather. Those boys – and a number of them were mere boys – were there at Vimy, Passchendaele and Ypres, along with thousands and thousands of others. For the sake of what? To this day it remains unclear to me. I adored by grandfather and truly liked those great uncles, but I still never understood the ‘why’ of the equation. It was something to do with ’empah’, you know, England’s war, not ours, no matter how you slice it.

Over 60,000 Canadians died in World War One. That was one lad for every 10 that joined up. A hideous toll when you consider the population of the time. And one has to ask why. One has to ask why anybody from this country joined up. This wasn’t our war. This was England’s war. It was Europe’s war. No enemy was going to be marching down our streets. Yet patriotic fervor and the shaming of those who did not go prevailed. I kind of hope that every woman who stuck a white feather in some guy’s lapel when to her grave wondering if she did the right thing, especially if the guy was shamed sufficiently to join up, and then died ‘over there.’ Witness the guilt-inducing posters of the era. Who would be actually brave enough to resist? Patriotic blackmail?

Over There was a popular ditty of the time, and that is the point. It was all over there – not here. And I also harken to my uncle’s words at the end of World War Two. “Not our war.” While, with advancements in aircraft and such by that time there was a slight chance we might have felt some minor impact, but nothing major.

No disrespect is intended in the direction of Canadians who went but from the vantage point of a century later I am bound to wonder why anybody did. Would you go? Would I? Would anybody, other than professional warriors show up?

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4 responses to “The grim centennial of a conflict that was to destroy the 20th century and from which we have never really recovered

  1. Many years ago I was pregnant, about 8 months along, and riding on a crowded BART train, going from Berkley to S.F. I asked a young black man if I might sit in his seat and he replied that I should go F–k myself as it wasn’t HIS baby. In that statement he was absolutely correct, it wasn’t his baby, so why should he make any accommodation toward me?

    The answer to Why? is because it is the right thing to do. ‘Not our war’ is an easy thing to say in order to keep from being inconvenienced or possibly killed defending others, but it isn’t the right thing to do.

    • Interesting reference to the issue. Makes a good point. About the right thing to do, indeed. I’m at the same time a pacifist, so I get torn. The US showed more resolve in both world wars (on the ‘not our war premise) and didn’t come in until later in the game. My gripe is that Canada went tearing into what was essentially England’s war.

  2. Honestly? Nope. I wouldn’t.

    And ironically enough, today is the 69th anniversary of Hiroshima – I always remember that one because when boy and I left city hall after getting married, we got into the car, turned on the radio and were told that “Today is the anniversary of Hiroshima.” Sobering.

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